Oxford Police Department Requests Full-time Detective
By Betsy Brewer Brantner, Contributing Writer
The Oxford Police Department made two presentations to borough council on Monday night informing officials of a recent, two-year manpower study.
Police Corporal Scott Brown said, “We have done a two-year study for you, but I’m going to go back to do a five-year study just for further clarification. The formula for the study includes the population of the town, the size of the town, the roadways included in the town and the call volume. Call volume numbers come from county dispatch.”
County Dispatch includes every call that comes into the police. The borough’s own numbers do not include every call, only those that require a report. It also doesn’t include traffic stops. But even with those caveats, calls have doubled, Brown said.
He explained that, according to the manpower study formula, Oxford should have 13 full-time officers. The borough has nine full-time positions, but are currently down to eight officers since Sgt. Thomas McFaddien retired this year after 37 years of service. Other officers will be retiring in the near future as well.
Brown said that the chief of police is a “working chief” and recently helped officers investigate a stabbing case.
When an officer leaves the department, the borough also loses years of training and experience. Brown also pointed out that the current population count is from 10 years ago, since the country is currently performing a new census. He used an estimated population number from Wikipedia so when updated census numbers are available, it could also change what best police practices would recommend.Brown said, “We are not asking for 13 officers. We are in the process of hiring a new officer, but we do have to realize we will have some retiring in the future, and we will have to bring the new hire up to speed.”
Council member Robert Ketcham asked, “When was the last time we added a full-time officer to our department?”
Police officer Chris Coverly replied, “That was in 2007, thirteen years ago.”
The need for a detective
Coverly followed Brown with a report outlining the need for a detective in the Oxford Police Department. He outlined rising crime trends nationally and pointed out that Oxford had to anticipate those trends as well, in order to protect the community.
Coverly explained the role of detective and how it relates to Oxford, going back to 2001, telling council, “We have already put in the largest investment. We have prepared for this over the years as we watched the trends surrounding the borough.”
The biggest borough investment in preparation for a detective, according to Coverly, was a new police building. Coverly said, “When we were located in the former Borough Hall, it was sadly so inadequate that we had to have victim and suspect in the same room. That will not and could not happen now.”
Through the years, the borough also invested heavily in training its officers in investigation techniques, while adding equipment, and technology. Sgt. McFadden was relied upon for much of the detective work, but it was obvious he would be retiring at some point. That left an open position on the force, but also a gap in a much-needed detective position.
Coverly stressed that the force needs public assistance in solving crimes and said, “There is a tremendous amount of time spent on paperwork, court proceedings, and follow-up investigations. No victim ever wants to call in about their case and hear that the caseworker will be back on Monday. In our current situation, we have officers who are doing dual roles as officer and investigator. It is not unreasonable for the average officer to spend five hours a week for follow- ups which includes email, video surveillance, legal documents, and criminal history. We have eight officers to work the shifts. So if those eight officers are each doing five hours of detective work, that is time they are not on street. It is important to have officers back on the street to deter crime.”
Coverly elaborated on what is required of a detective.
“It may take years for a major case investigation. It is a totally different triangle for a detective to link a victim to a suspect and to the crime scene,” he said.
The recent stabbing in the borough is one example. The Chief of Police was out on the scene to secure it and begin the investigation. Photographs had to be taken, evidence marked, and then a closeup of evidence, sketches, measurements, bagging and tagging evidence, etc. Evidence can be fingerprints, shoe prints and trace evidence, such as DNA, hair fibers, and soil samples which will be sent out to a lab. At one point, we were taking evidence to Harrisburg. That required a lot of travel time in just transporting that. Now, we can take it to Lima again, which is a much shorter drive.
“When we moved to our new building in 2010, we were able to set up a lab there where we can do some pre-work. We are eliminating a step, and that is time and money,” Coverly said.
The investigation doesn’t stop with the arrest he pointed out. It continues all the way up to trial. A major case presents many challenges. Coverly stressed that one of the biggest obstacles they face is technology.
“Training someone to keep up with every changing technology is one of the biggest things that faces us. We can have massive amounts of digital evidence. We have phones, computers and all the information from them to analyze. Chester County has a computer forensic lab that frequently assists us,” Coverly said. “They came down during the stabbing. They helped us and moved on. They get inundated and have to send things to the Philadelphia FBI lab.”
Mayor Phil Harris recently gave up his office in the police building, moving into the new borough hall building so that police could use the extra space in their building.
If there was ever a reason for a detective, Coverly said, it is one of the darkest areas of crime—child abuse cases. Discussion about a recent rape case of a minor brought a silence over council.
“We had one suspect that had over 9,000 images of disgusting acts and someone had to go through them. The subject will turn himself in. The work involved in that one case was massive,” Coverly said.
He summarized his presentation by reiterating that the borough had been investing all along in preparation for a detective: a new building, a lab, numerous hours of training and constantly upgrading equipment. Now they need the detective.
Coverly ended by saying, “The time is now. Actually, it was years ago. We must get ahead of it. The community deserves best police practices.”
Council president Peggy Ann Russell thanked Officer Coverly. “It’s been a difficult 20 minutes to process,” she said. “I’d like to thank our police force for protecting and helping our vulnerable community.”
In other business
Council also received a brief Crimewatch demonstration. The Crimewatch Network is a platform that creates transparency in local law enforcement and gives the public instant access to information that impacts the safety of the community. This will be discussed further.
In other business, there will be a drive-thru medication drop-off event on Saturday, Oct. 17 from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Oxford Borough Police Station at 57 N. 4th Street, Oxford.
Public Works Director John Schaible reminded everyone that hydrant flushing will begin on Oct. 11 and continue until Oct. 30.
Jan Andress was appointed to serve on the Historic Architectural Review Board.
Mayor Phil Harris declared October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. He also said he swore in three new parking attendants. The Mayor said that a statement will be on the website regarding trick-or-treating for this year. Trick-or-treating is held on Oct. 31, but he urged everyone to respect those that did not want to participate. Typically, when lights are off people are not participating. He also urged everyone to read the Center for Disease Control guidelines posted on the website.
Russell thanked everyone for their participation in the meeting, especially the police department for the tremendous educational opportunity they provided. She said, “If people ask, where the money goes in the police budget, we can say it protects the vulnerable in the community.”